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SNP OPPOSITION COUNCILLORS and Moray’s MSP were left casting insults and rocks in the direction of the Conservative and Independent administration on Tuesday.
The best efforts of both failed to make an impression on the ruling administration however, members of which rounded on the MSP for promising too little and too late to have any real affect on the £6m+ budget cuts.
Throughout the deliberations they shouted often and loud that the fact over £4million more was produced by the Scottish Government than expected should have led to some of the most severe cuts being at least suspended.
The Administration, meanwhile, stuck to their guns, pointing out that even against unknown levels of central government grant next year, savings had to be begin now if they were to have any chance of avoiding a financial meltdown in Moray. It was also pointed out that even with the increased funding from Holyrood, Moray still had to use £4million from reserves to balance the budget.
Graham Leadbitter, joint leader of the SNP group, said: “We have no love for Moray’s Tory/Independent Vaentine’s Day budget. In this year’s budget we have seen a Tory/Independent Administration hellbent on the slash and burn of services in Moray and especially our education services.
“Despite having more than £4million pounds extra than they had planned for they have changed little from their original proposals, which is just inexplicable. Other services including Economic Development, Crossing Patrollers and Moray’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau have also been hugely hard hit.
“We’ve also had the crazy situation in the last few months with Tories and Independents in the Council’s Administration complaining about the share of funding that Moray gets through the local government formula, yet the Council Leader admitted that he has only raised this with COSLA in January. This is nothing short of sleeping on the job!”
The SNP Co-Leader, Shona Morrison, added: “The Tory/Independent budget forced on the people of Moray today is hugely damaging, especially for the education of our young people.
“The loss of school librarians, technicians, visiting specialists and many other education cuts are beyond the pale and fail to recognise the huge contributions being made by the staff in these posts to the education of our young folk.
“This is a bad budget for Moray and a bad budget for our young folk in particular. While the SNP are focussed on increasing attainment through initiatives such as the Pupil Equity Fund while the Tories and Independents in Moray are slashing education budgets and undermining the work of our schools and other education professionals.
“Yet again in this debate we saw as Tory Councillor calling for more money from the Scottish Government while his Tory colleagues in Holyrood are set to vote against additional tax raising which would cut the budget for public services in Scotland by a whopping half a billion pounds.
“It is incoherent, short-sighted and a shocking attack on services in Moray.”
MSP bemoans ‘Draconian’ Budget
Richard Lochhead MSP called it a ‘black day for Moray’, saying frontline services were slashed and local workers losing their jobs because of the ‘draconian’ budget.
He added: “Council leaders demanded more money from the Scottish Government in order to save services, which they duly received to the tune of £4m. Despite this extra cash they’ve stubbornly charged ahead with devastating cuts, including to provision within our local schools, with children and families in Moray left to suffer.
“My SNP colleagues and I made an offer to the Tory led Council that would have protected our local schools, saved jobs, and allowed us to work together to improve the long-term finances of the Moray Council.
“Sadly, the partisan members of the administration chose to dig their heals in and push through this hugely damaging budget proving that they’re unfit for office.
“There’s a real human cost to this Tory budget and for the staff whose jobs are to be axed this will be a hugely worrying time, and I will be reaching out to local trade unions to look at where we can go from here.”
Conservative leader: Optimistic and Realistic
Tim Eagle was perhaps the calmest man in the Council chamber throughout the proceedings, the local Farmer pouring cold water on the political firestorm that surrounded him.
Councillor Eagle said: “I always like to try and be optimistic because for me and all in my group that will be essential in moving Moray forward, something we so dearly need to do.
“That does not mean, of course, it is a hopeful optimism but is based upon the admin group progressively working better together, becoming more experienced and establishing some positive relationships with officers that will help bring about the change needed.
“I know “slash & burn” and “an additional £4m” has been used a lot in the last few days – but this is really not true. The administration have spent many months talking about all aspects of the council, really thinking hard about the services we offer and what the future looks like for them.
“The reform matrix shown in our new corporate plan, approved today, will be the beating heart of the changes that will be spoken about over the next months. That might not on the surface mean much to members of the public – but to Moray that means a team of officers and elected members having frank and open conversations about the strategic direction we are moving in and the detail of how we are going to get there.”
Councillor Eagle said that the funding they received this year is not an “extra £4m” – as the settlement includes inflationary pressures and additional services that the Council are required to deliver with the same sum of money.
He said: “I would urge everyone in Moray to remember that all councils, regardless of political leadership, are facing severe cuts to services, Moray does not stand alone.
“I have tried in many press releases and articles on insideMORAY over the last few months to get across the message that this budget was never going to sit easy with many of us, but each and every option was discussed meticulously – and as the Equality Impact Assessments show, many of the service reductions have either been mitigated against or will become part of a program of change.
“We already choose as a group to maintain our leisure and library services while we work hard in the background to really look at steps to enhance the services we offer in this area, to ensure we do all we can to promote health and wellbeing.
“There has been much hard work these last few months to get us to where we are, and I am very aware that many will be saddened by some of the new budget measures. I can only assure them that they were not easy decisions to make.
“My group and I are aware that there is very hard work to come to ensure we deliver on our corporate plan. My hope is the public will continue to give us the support and time we need to make Moray the best it can be.”